About four years ago I was busy, pretty fulfilled, highly sociable, with a lot going on. Each working day I’d cycle into work. I had a great social life, and was studying part-time for a masters degree.
Then it started going wrong. I became frightened of stepping on something dirty, and carrying a deadly infection around with me. Pretty soon I could only ride my bike while looking down at the ground for fear of riding through something infectious. I love cycling, it’s all about freedom and travelling under my own steam. But it was too dangerous to ride like that and I had to stop.
I went to my GP. She was brilliant. She listened and asked me questions just as she would for any illness and did not, as I feared, treat me as if I was a one-off unusual case. She referred me to the in-house counsellor for a limited number of sessions and told me about OCD. Seeing the words Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on the referral form was actually a great relief. It was a recognised illness that was treatable. It was no longer something that maybe only I had. This meant I was normal!
I have always had OCD, in the background. But it had never been a massive problem before. I just assumed that I was a bit different, that’s all! But now, it had got to the stage where I really needed help.
But therapy sounded weird and scary. I’m British and I’m a man!
But therapy sounded weird and scary. I’m British and I’m a man! The idea of therapy or mental illness wasn’t part of my world. Therapy: me? But there was no denying the need. After completing the sessions with the GP’s in-house counsellor I was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT. But the waiting list on the NHS back in 2008 was several months. And I was now desperate. In fact, virtually house bound.
I would only leave the flat to go to work. The commute was awful. On the tube I couldn’t sit down or hold onto the pole for fear of contamination. Stations would be full of people rushing in all directions, which seemed an impossible situation for me because I was always looking at the floor, which would sometimes seem to leap up at me like an excited dog. Sometimes I would just stop myself from dropping to the ground in the stress of it all.
I would spend ages washing my hands or taking showers. I was always going back to check several times that something wasn’t dirty and throwing things away that might have got dirty. I have wasted hundreds of pounds on new clothes.
Eventually, I had to own up to family
Eventually, I had to own up to family. There were only so many invites that I could turn down. Believe it or not it was on Christmas Day 2008, and I bawled like a toddler. But they were brilliant. They understood that I needed help. It’s an enormous relief that I am able to talk to them openly about my illness, although I think it must be difficult for them. They are so pleased to see that I am getting better.
I decided to find a therapist privately because the waiting list for CBT was too long. It turns out that therapy isn’t weird and scary. It’s a way of exploring and airing what issues are behind my OCD, and dealing with them. I found a therapist that I clicked with, and so far have been working with him for two and a half years. While the cost of private therapy is a struggle, it is definitely worth it. I am on medication – another idea that scared me at first, because I wanted to overcome my illness myself without relying on a prescription. But it’s like a helping hand, a support, and I hope one day I will no longer need it.
Slowly I have been able to do things like... ride my bike to work!
Slowly I have been able to do things like have friends round to the flat, shake peoples’ hands, go on holiday, and, finally, ride my bike to work!
It’s been incredibly useful to talk to people about my illness. Those closest to me know about it - family and closest friends. I have discovered that some people I know have experienced mental health issues, and some of those have experienced OCD. This has made me feel much less isolated and has helped me realise that it isn’t just me.
I realise that mental illness is like any other illness
The sense that it is some unknown disease that affects only me has gone. I realise that mental illness is like any other illness – nothing to be ashamed of. If mental illness were something we all knew more about and accepted like physical illness it would be so much easier to deal with. This is why I think Time to Change is such a great organisation – it challenges the stigma.